Gender Differences For the most part, men and women are similar with respect to mental disorders, but differences do exist. Many studies have concluded that women have a higher rate of psycho- logical disorders than men do, but this is an oversimplification (Cosgrove & Riddle, 2004; Hartung & Widiger, 1998; Klose & Jacobi, 2004). We do know that more women than men are treated for mental disorders. But this cannot be taken to mean that more women than men have mental disorders, for in our society, it is much more acceptable for women to discuss their emotional difficulties and to seek professional help openly (H. Lerman, 1996).
Moreover, mental disorders for which there seems to be a strong biological compo- nent, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, are distributed fairly equally between the sexes. Differences tend to be found for those disorders without a strong biological component—that is, disorders in which learning and experience play a more important role. For example, men are more likely than women to suffer from substance abuse and antisocial personality disorder. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to suffer from depression, agoraphobia, simple phobia, obsessive–compulsive disorder, and som- atization disorder (Craske, 2003; Rosenfield & Pottick, 2005). These tendencies, coupled with the fact that gender differences observed in the United States are not always seen in other cultures (Culbertson, 1997), suggest that socialization plays a part in developing a disorder: When men display abnormal behavior, it is more likely to take the forms of drinking too much and acting aggressively; when women display abnormal behavior, they are more likely to become fearful, passive, hopeless, and “sick” (Rosenfield & Pottick, 2005).
One commonly reported difference between the sexes concerns marital status. Men who are separated, divorced, or who have never married have a higher incidence of mental disorders than do either women of the same marital status or married men. But married women have higher rates than married men. What accounts for the apparent fact that mar- riage is psychologically less beneficial for women than for men?
Here, too, socialization appears to play a role. For women, marriage, family relation- ships, and child rearing are likely to be more stressful than they are for men (Erickson, 2005; Stolzenberg & Waite, 2005). For men, marriage and family provide a haven; for women, they are a demanding job. In addition, women are more likely than men to be the victims of incest, rape, and marital battering. As one researcher has commented, “for women, the U.S. family is a violent institution” (Koss, 1990, p. 376).
We saw in Chapter 11 that the effects of stress are proportional to the extent that a person feels alienated, powerless, and helpless. Alienation, powerlessness, and helplessness are more prevalent in women than in men. These factors are espe- cially common among minority women, so it is not surprising that the prevalence of psychological disorders is greater among them than among other women (Laganà & Sosa, 2004). In addition, these factors play an especially important role in anxiety disorders and depression—precisely those disorders experienced most often by women (M. Byrne, Carr, & Clark, 2004; Kessler et al., 1994). The rate of depression among women is twice that of men, a difference that is usually ascribed to the more negative and stressful aspects of women’s lives, including lower incomes and the experiences of bias and physical and sexual abuse (American Psy- chological Association, 2006; Blehar & Keita, 2003).
In summary, women do seem to have higher rates of anxiety disorders and depression than men do; and they are more likely than men to seek Describe the differences between men and women in psychological disorders including the prevalence of disorders and the kinds of disorders they are likely to experience. Explain why these differences exist. Explain why “it is increasingly important for mental health professionals to be aware of cultural differences” in psychological disorders.
More women than men in the United States seek help for mental disorders, but this may not mean mental disorders are more prevalent in women. Women are more likely than men to seek help for a variety of problems, physical and mental.